H40

halloween 2018

HALLOWEEN

3.5 Stars  2018/18/106m

“Face your fate.”

Director/Writer: David Gordon Green / Writers: Danny McBride & Jeff Fradley / Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Toby Huss, Virginia Gardner, Dylan Arnold, Miles Robbins, Drew Scheid, Jibrail Nantambu, Nick Castle.

Body Count: 18+

Laughter Lines: “What are we gonna do – cancel Halloween?”


H40 has a double meaning here, as I was born in 1978, so Halloween and I turned 40 together in 2018. Schming! Now what of this film we’ve been wetting our pants over for the best part of a year? You best believe I took an afternoon off work to go see it, with one city cinema shut down all week, I couldn’t take the chance it’d be sold out. Beware a few minor spoilers.

The third timeline in the franchise – fourth if you count Rob Zombie’s remakes – is like the reverse side of H20‘s coin, fast forwarded another twenty years, just to make you feel extra old. In this ‘What if…’ of events, Halloween‘s II through Resurrection never happened (‘yay!’ chorused the fans) and Halloween is just the first sequel to Halloween. And also titled Halloween. HALP.

Forty loooong years after the Haddonfield murders of ’78 (just the four vics of the first movie, mind), British documenting duo Aaron and Dana visit Smith’s Grove to try and wring some words out of Michael Myers, incarcerated there since that night but shortly to be moved to a less cushty asylum. The day before Halloween. What could go wrong?

halloween 2018 jefferson hall aaron

Failing to elicit any kind of response from Myers, they visit Laurie Strode, now a paranoid prepper living outside of Haddonfield and surrounded by target practice mannequins in a house full of improvised traps, hidey-holes, and everything else out of the Maniac Survival section in B&Q. Laurie takes their questions but finds their need to make sense out of the crimes pointless and asks them to leave, while she visits her largely-estranged daughter Karen (the always adorable Greer), and granddaughter Alyson – the only one with whom she has any kind of decent relationship.

The prison transfer bus is found crashed, the staff dead, and the loons wandering, all except one, who kills a father and young son (the latter bravely on camera) to hawk their car and head guess where? Michael’s doc (“the new Loomis,” Laurie later hisses) has survived the accident and soon accompanies the cops back to Haddonfield to find him.

It’s too late for some though, as Michael finds himself back on the streets he used to haunt, and in one particularly awesome single tracking shot, coasts through two houses with a hammer and a knife, doing away with those who happen to be home. Next he moves on to the house where Alyson’s friend Vicky is babysitting, in a scene that’s designed to hark back to the straightforwardness of the original. Laurie, meanwhile, is using her police scanner to hunt Michael down her way.

halloween 2018 virginia gardner

Once the word is out that Michael is back, Laurie, Karen and Karen’s rather naive husband Ray, are moved to Laurie’s house under police protection, while the cops search for Alyson, who was last seen at a dance but is not answering any calls (her scuzzy boyfriend threw her phone into the punch) and is soon being accosted by Michael.

A couple of out-of-the-blue, but not entirely contrived twists later, it’s the Strode women versus Michael in Laurie’s Home Alone funhouse of tricks (but not treats) as she goes into Final Girl mode once again to finish her life’s work and end Michael once and for all.

How does it stack up? I beamed when the titles came up in that font – same color n’ all – as a jack-o-lantern un-moulded on the left side of the screen. The many nods to the original (and even bits of the sequels) brought a smile and Curtis owns the movie entirely in this alternate version of Laurie. She said in many interviews the film is as much about trauma as a masked loon, and she’s right – Laurie 2.0 (3.0? 4.0?) is a screwed up basket case by her own admission, but obviously vindicated in the end. Greer holds her own though, as the daughter who’s been through too much of this shit to care, but when the chips are down, well… There’s a particular moment that garnered applause from the audience.

halloween 2018

In the role Laurie-for-the-2010s is Alyson, who is great, but doesn’t quite earn her final girl stripes as much as Grandma: She doesn’t even know some of her friends are dead, robbing her of some crucial motivation and, although she certainly gets fed through the grinder, the chance to relive the house-of-horrors bodies-falling-out-of-everywhere scenes on Alyson were curiously missed.

Too few of the doomed characters are given that much to do to stencil their names into our minds like Annie and Lynda: Alyson’s friends, Vicky and Dave, only share a couple of short scenes before they’re gone so don’t get to leave much of a mark. The good kid/bad kid divide is a little too harshly drawn and there wasn’t much empathy for their plights as they paid the ultimate price for being young and carefree.

And… where was the Myers house??? It should’ve put in an appearance.

halloween 2018 jamie lee curtis

Fortunately, some great scenes (the Hell Night-esque gate moment) towards the end picked up my mood and the final twenty or so minutes were relentless in setting up tension. Reversing the sequels out of my head to appreciate Michael as a more Regular Joe-with-a-blade took some doing, but Laurie is present as a visual cue that we’re in a parallel universe here. The final shot of the three victorious Strode women is glorious, confirming they rule this series, as any and all men fall away helplessly. A feminist context? Pfft, nah – slasher movies have always needed kick-ass women and this just affirms that it’s not all about nude shower scenes and babes-in-peril. In this realm, oestrogen is the elixir of survival.

Blurbs-of-interest: As well as alt-universe Laurie, Curtis was in Prom NightTerror Train, and – ugh – Scream Queens.

 

 

Other Halloween films are available…

With the very low-key, barely advertised release of Halloween this Friday, let’s take a look at some of the other slasher movies set around this holiday…

Trick or Treats (1982): A babysitter and an obnoxious brat on Halloween night. His father has recently escaped from the asylum and is coming home to get even with the wife and her lover who put him there. One murder does not a slasher movie make.
Halloweeny-ness: 37%

*

cemetery of terror 1985

Cemetery of Terror (1985): Dumb teens steal the corpse of a recently-departed serial killer for their Halloween night seance. He is resurrected and the obvious ensues, but also a lot of the non-obvious, such as every other buried body in the graveyard reanimating and chasing a group of young kids who dropped by for hi-jinks. Deranged fun from Mexico.
Halloweeny-ness: 74%

Hack-O-Lantern (1987): Small town Satanists are suspected of killing locals as a big Halloween party looms. From the director of the equally insipid Open House, don’t expect a whole lot of tricks or treats – just a film that looks like those who made it were embarrassed to be making a slasher movie.
Halloweeny-ness: 32%

Hollow Gate (1988): Two teen couples are given free wigs if they’ll deliver some Halloween costumes to a secluded manor house!! There, they are hunted by the psychotic who dwells within. One guy is savaged by Labradors! Another chick practically stands there and waits to be run over by the world’s slowest moving combine harvester.
Halloweeny-ness: 61%

*

tree-guy

HauntedWeen (1991): College kids set up a walk-through scare fest at the house where a murder occurred twenty tears earlier just as the psycho rolls back into town. A festival of terrible, terrible hair and fashion, but at least this quirky rarity isn’t boring.
Halloweeny-ness: 55%

Jack-O (1995): Beer-guzzling teens unearth a demon with an oversized pumpkin for a head, that picks up its ancient mission to rid the world of a family bloodline. Linnea Quigley is out to stop it. Fred Olen Ray produced, so that should tell us all we need to know.
Halloweeny-ness: 28%

The Fear: Resurrection (1999): The creepy wooden mannequin from the first Fear movie, Morty, stalks again, as college kids go and visit Betsy Palmer’s house. Confusing with loads of unanswered questions and the more boring the character, the more likely they are to survive.
Halloweeny-ness: 11%

Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader (2000): “Two-four-six-eight, who do we decapitate?” Bimbo pom-pom wavers are menaced by a killer on Halloween night. Cheapest of the cheap, with a repeated boobs being lopped off and a shitty, homophobic ending.
Halloweeny-ness: 8%

*

american nightmare 2000

American Nightmare (2000): Student friends tune into the titular Halloween radio broadcast that leads to them being hunted down and done away with by the psychotic nurse (Debbie Rochon) who has abducted the sister of the nominal final girl. Costume party drug-induced stabbings, live burial, weird ending. This is an obscure one, but worth a look all the same.
Halloweeny-ness: 65%

Paranoid (2000): The Conscience Killer is at large in the small town of Sugar Hill, Georgia, offing various teens during another Halloween haunted house thingy. This Australian Scream-clone features a bolshy news anchor named Kate Winsail!
Halloweeny-ness: 63%

Dark Walker (2003): One of those Haunted House things is erected on a cursed pumpkin patch (!), allowing a scarecrow-monster thing to rise again and kill the teenage employees.
Halloweeny-ness: 81%

Hellbent (2004): The first gay slasher flick: A quartet of friends are stalked by a musclebound, masked lunatic during Halloween night festivities in Los Angeles. Some awesome scenes elevate the clear budgetary restrictions.
Halloweeny-ness: 71%

*

satan's little helper 2004

Satan’s Little Helper (2004): A kid obsessed with the titular computer game believes he’s helping out with some Halloween pranks when a masked guy appears in his hometown – but these murders are real, which is obvious to everyone bar said kid. Fun little comic horror helmed by the director of Just Before Dawn.
Halloweeny-ness: 92%

The Hollow (2004): An impressive cast roster including Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory, Kevin Zegers, Judge Reinhold, Stacy Keach, and Eileen Brennan highlight this TV movie about the ancestor of Ichabod Crane battling a headless horseman.
Halloweeny-ness: 96%

Halloween Night (2006): Asylum-produced cash-in on Rob Zombie’s then-incoming Halloween remake, apparently set in 1992 but featuring characters with cell phones and digital cameras. This is a fairly basic killer-storms-a-costume-party thing with some acceptable production unities, but seriously unlikeable characters.
Halloweeny-ness: 59%

*

the pumpkin karver 2006

The Pumpkin Karver (2006): A brother and sister who were involved in the prank-gone-wrong death of a friend, move to a new town where, at a Halloween party, a pumpkin-headed loon starts turning the teens into Jack-O-Lanterns. 99% of the action is saved for the last 25 minutes, making this one a real endurance test.
Halloweeny-ness: 61%

Mr Halloween (2006): Teens tend to go missing in a small town at an alarming rate around Halloween. A girl is kidnapped and finds her friend who vanished a year earlier has been tied up in the assailant’s garage all year (though his hair curiously hasn’t grown). It’s all to make realistic body parts for his haunted house thingy. Same old same old with some ridiculous plot oversights that runs for almost two hours.
Halloweeny-ness: 66%

Hayride (2012): A haunted hayride attraction becomes the stalking ground for a pitchfork-wielding loon, who sets about eliminating the actors who’re supposed to scare the guests. Cheap and predictable, but not wholly awful.
Halloweeny-ness: 52%

Terrifier (2017): A psychotic clown abducts two young women after a Halloween party and tortures them to death. A scene where a naked woman is suspended upside down only to be sawn from between the legs all the way up to the neck crosses the line. Get fucked.
Halloweeny-ness: 36%

*

The Legend of Halloween Jack (2018): Umm…

Drew the right thing

far from home 1989 drew barrymore

FAR FROM HOME

2.5 Stars  1989/18/89m

“One boy wants her love. One boy wants her dead.”

Director: Meiert Avis / Writers: Ted Gershuny & Tommy Lee Wallace / Cast: Drew Barrymore, Matt Frewer, Richard Masur, Karen Austin, Jennifer Tilly, Andras Jones, Anthony Rapp, Susan Tyrrell, Dick Miller, Stephanie Walski, Connie Sawyer.

Body count: 6


The main critical objection to Far From Home upon its 1989 release was that it exploited then 13-year-old Drew Barrymore – who was at the peak of her personal problems – and it’s hard not to agree, just look at the VHS cover there. From the outset, we’re shown her character Joleen slo-mo swimming in a little black bikini, having ice seductively rubbed over her skin, and then almost date-raped by a character played by then 20-year-old Andras Jones. It’s… icky.

On the eve of her 14th birthday, Joleen and her dad Charlie (Barrymore and Frewer – Drew n’ Frew) are nearing the end of a summer driving around freeways as part of his journalism career, when they run out of gas and find themselves stuck in the small Nevada hamlet of Banco, population 132. Rented a trailer for the night by the crotchety Agnes, Joleen meets Jimmy, Agnes’ hunky son, while Charlie spends his time looking for gas to buy so they can get home to LA.

far from home 1989 susan tyrrell

Someone is prowling the area with murder in mind, and Agnes is soon electrocuted while she takes a bath. In the trailer park, they meet fellow strandees Louise and Amy, and agree to use what little gas they source to carpool back to California. Joleen, meanwhile, flirts with Jimmy, who attempts to rape her, only to be saved by awkward teen Pinky (Rapp, recently notable in the Kevin Spacey scandal).

When they attempt to leave, “mystery”-killer punctures the gas tank and drives a remote controlled car with a lit candle underneath, blowing up their only means of escape (and the poor soul trapped inside). Jimmy is the natural suspect and eventually apprehended, but the actual identity of the loon is startlingly obvious to the rest of us.

Nicely photographed with some elements of decent direction from music video helmer Avis, it’s also nice to see a film not confined to middle-class suburbs. But the paper-thin whodunit, ridiculous over-acting by Tyrrell, and the Dear Diary narration from Barrymore undermine what could’ve been achieved given the capable cast (Masur is good as the anti-cash mechanic, though other actors are wasted in thankless roles) and crew (Tommy Lee Wallace! Mary Woronov’s late husband!). Sadly though, the exploitation of an underage girl is what you’ll remember most. Eww.

far from home 1989 drew barrymore

Ultimately, the film failed due to studio problems that resulted in it playing in barely a handful of theaters (like, four).

Blurbs-of-interest: Barrymore, of course, would later play Casey Becker in Scream; Andras Jones was Rick in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4; Jennifer Tilly was Tiffany in Bride of ChuckySeed of ChuckyCurse of Chucky, and Cult of Chucky, as well as appearing in The Caretaker; Tyrrell was the psycho auntie of Night Warning; the woman being seen to in the trailer was adult star Teri Weigel, who was in Cheerleader Camp.

Black cats and Goblins on Halloween night

satan's little helper 2004

SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER

3 Stars  2004/15/96m

“Your house is next.”

Director/Writer: Jeff Lieberman / Cast: Katheryn Winnick, Alexander Brickel, Stephen Graham, Amanda Plummer, Wass Stevens, Dan Ziskie, Melisa McGregor, Joshua Annex.

Body Count: 15

Laughter Lines: “His ass is fuckin’ grass!”


Pre-teen geek Dougie (Brickel) is obsessed with the titular computer game, and looks forward to finding Satan when trick or treating on Halloween with his big sister, who has returned from college with her new boyfriend, much to Dougie’s annoyance.

Peeved, he wanders around town on his own and encounters a masked figure propping up bodies on their porches and lawns – but not real ones, right? Dougie believes he’s found Satan and asks the muted maniac if he can be his helper for the night. As the naive accomplice to the loon, Dougie laughs along as Satan dishes out more tricks than treats on the unsuspecting residents of the town.

Confusion as to who is under the mask takes up a lot of attention: Big sis Jenna thinks it’s her actor boyfriend just really getting into the part while Dougie thinks his new friend is just playing it all for laughs. This makes for a good moment when Jenna realises there’s someone else entirely behind the mask.

satan's little helper 2004

Satan’s Little Helper comes across like a combo of Uncle Sam and Office Killer – fun in the moment, but nothing you’ll go out of your way to recommend. Lieberman – who wrote and directed Just Before Dawn back in ’81 – wisely goes for the ribs rather than the jugular, so’s to avoid an accusations of pandering to Halloween, and the largely likeable cast assist in making it a fun little experience (sans the murder of a cute cat).

Plummer is a hoot as the kids’ nutty mom, and Winnick is a good final girl, though her little brother is required to seek new depths of stupidity from time to time to prop up the contrived nature of ‘Satan’s’ killing spree, but it doesn’t really harm the film, which is polished off with an unsurprising but inoffensive twist, successfully book-ending it with the kind of unexplained finality that normally sinks other straight-to-video productions.

 

Wait for it…

frayed 2007

FRAYED

3 Stars  2007/15/111m

“You can’t escape your darkest fear.”

Directors/Writers: Rob Portman & Norbert Caoili / Writers: Kurt Svennungsen, Dino Moore, Dana Svennungsen / Cast: Tony Doupe, Aaron Blakely, Alena Dashiell, Tasha Smith, Kellee Bradley, Don Brady, Dino Moore, Colin Byrne, Quinlan Corbett, Tim Evans, Rachel Pate.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “I know how to warm you girls up – every time I fart, you guys drink.”


This was headed for 2-star city for about 105 of its 111-minute running time. Unavoidable partial spoilers follow, because when I happened to read the five words “if you’ve seen Haute Tension…” I thought I had it all figured out.

In September 1994, five-year-old Sara’s birthday party is hijacked by her annoying older brother, Kurt, who is sent to his room by his mom. She later comes to talk to him and is thanked by being beaten to death with a baseball bat and little Kurt is packed off to an institution.

Years later – thirteen, I’m guessing (yay! it’s not a multiple of five!) – the doctors at the clinic feel he’s failed to make significant progress and arrange for him to be transferred elsewhere. Meanwhile, his father, the local sheriff, allows Sara to go camping with her BFF Vanessa, much to the annoyance of her stepmother.

frayed 2007 tasha smith alena dashiell

We cut to a young security guard frantically searching the woods when he takes a tumble – or is shoved – down an embankment. He’s rescued by a motorist but they are attacked by a clown-masked psycho who kills the driver and accosts him through the woods. In this scene, some 25 minutes through, I figured out that the guard and the killer were one and the same. From this point on, only he sees the loon, yelling about his presence all the time, but nobody else ever reacts to the killer, only ‘Gary’s’ shrieking that he’s coming.

The focus eventually drifts back to the family home where brother and sister will face off. He realises who he is (or isn’t, whatever), lots of “get out of me!”-style antics ensue until Papa comes home brandishing his gun. I confess I yawned, wondering how it had a fairly favourable IMDb rating after extended scenes of girl hyperventilating in their hiding places, off-camera killings, and too much talk, with the big “the call is coming from inside the house!” moment skewered by the fact this revelation was obvious an hour ago.

frayed 2007

But then… Frayed goes one step further and then another step, hurling twists all over the show, ending the film in a very grim, downbeat way, but at least one I didn’t see coming a mile off. It’s as if they used the Haute Tension twist to cover up for the mechanics of the real twist happening underneath. Still, the film is in dire need of a good 15-20 minutes being cropped off, as the midriff is hard terrain and more focus could’ve gone into making the stalk-n-slasher section better, but just about worth it for the eventual payoff.

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